Yesterday on the steps of the US Capitol the evangelical leader Rick Warren stirred a bit of controversy by concluding his inaugural invocation with a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer — a distinctly Christian prayer of course. I was surprised more by how he began:
Almighty God, our father, everything we see and everything we can’t see exists because of you alone. It all comes from you, it all belongs to you. It all exists for your glory. History is your story. The Scripture tells us “Hear, oh Israel, the Lord is our god; the Lord is one.”
“Hear, oh Israel” — this is the beginning of the Shema from Deuteronomy 6. Having wandered through the wilderness for forty years after fleeing Egypt, the Jewish people stand on the east bank of the Jordan, ready to cross over into the land of Canaan, also called Palestine. Moses has just delivered the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5, and now he’s giving the people a set of final instructions and warnings before they surge across the river to take what God says is rightfully theirs. It’s at the beginning of the very next chapter that we read Moses’ instructions regarding what should be done with the current occupants of the land:
“when the LORD your God delivers them before you and you defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them.” (Deuteronomy 7:2)
Is it mere coincidence that Warren chose of all things the Shema as the opening theme for his invocation at this particular juncture in history? I don’t think so.